My hands were shaking as I dialed the number to my doctor’s office. I held the phone to my ear and sat down as I listened to the line ring. My heart was pounding as the receptionist answered, “Good morning! How may I help you?”
“Hi, um . . . I need to schedule an appointment . . . ” My voice cracked as the tears began streaming down my face. I barely got out my request as I desperately tried to keep my emotions under control.
I’ll never forget that phone call. That was a few weeks shy of my baby boy’s first birthday. I had been silently suffering with a condition I now know is termed postpartum emotional distress. The depression and anxiety I thought I could beat on my own was looming over me as the year mark approached.
I kept telling myself to give it more time. Surely I would feel better once the baby started sleeping better. But he was sleeping better and had been for a few months now. Sure, there was an occasional sleep regression or teething pain that made sleep difficult, but I was no longer dealing with the crazy sleep patterns of a newborn. So why am I still feeling this way?
Meeting with my doctor was the turning point in my journey of overcoming PPD, but it certainly wasn’t a quick fix. Listed below are the steps I have taken and continue to follow as I seek complete victory over my PPD and anxiety. It is my hope and prayer that it might help others going through something similar:
1. Seek professional help and follow up with your doctor.
If I hadn’t reached out to my doctor, I may still be waiting and wondering when I’d feel better. I was already trying everything I could think of to help ease the symptoms of depression, but it was the combination of medication and counseling that jump-started the healing process in me I was unable to achieve by myself. Once my body and mind were properly taken care of by medical professionals, my own efforts were much more effective.
The medication my doctor prescribed to me has been a huge part of my recovery. There were some minor side effects during the first few weeks of taking my low dosage anti-depressant, but it didn’t take long for my body to adjust and the medication to work. My emotions began leveling out, and I finally had more energy.
My doctor also recommended counseling so I found a therapist and began one-on-one therapy sessions. The counseling inspired me to proactively work to improve my everyday habits and thought processes. Most importantly, it gave me hope and helped me feel more “normal”. My counselor was so helpful that I plan on continuing therapy from time to time when I need extra support throughout life.
2. Find a personal support system.
Whether it is a breastfeeding or baby-wearing support group or just a few close friends, having a support system is essential to the healing process. As an introvert, the last thing I wanted to do was join a support group and be vulnerable with a bunch of strangers. So I enlisted a few friends and family members to help support and encourage me.
For the first few months postpartum, little tasks were extremely overwhelming and difficult for me so my husband stepped in to take care of all the first-time parenting stuff such as figuring out how to properly assemble and care for all our baby gadgets. He has continued to be the most patient and understanding partner as we have walked through this journey together.
In addition, I asked a couple girlfriends to periodically check in on me. They help encourage me when I need it and get me out of the house for play dates with our kids. My sister and another friend of mine both had babies around the same time as me, so the first few months postpartum, I was guaranteed to have a texting buddy during all those early morning feedings.
3. Take care of yourself emotionally and spiritually.
One thing that has always proved helpful to me when I’m going through a bout of depression is keeping a gratitude journal. There is something very therapeutic about jotting down a few things I’m thankful for each day. I didn’t have enough energy to write in a journal so I kept a voice diary on my phone instead. Everyday while I was nursing my son, I would record my voice as I made declarations of all the things I was thankful for. Speaking out loud the blessings in my life helped stir up my faith and gave me hope that I would feel better again soon.
I also enjoy reading so I always have a few devotionals on hand either on my Bible app or around the house in book format. Early on in my little boy’s life, I found a few books that were extremely helpful to me in my transition to motherhood. There was one book in particular called Nourishment for New Moms by Joan C. Webb, which proved to be just what this new mama needed. It’s a short devotional book that is full of women’s personal stories about transitioning to mommy-hood. It made me laugh, cry, and most importantly, not feel so alone in my thoughts and fears as a new mom.
4. Take care of your body
Make sure to eat a well-balanced diet and get as much sleep as possible. During the first few months postpartum, all you really have control over is what you put into your body so make sure you’re eating foods to fuel your energy. Enlist a friend or family member to help watch the baby when you need extra rest. My husband was my go-to person when I needed a nap or time away from the baby.
During the first few sleep-deprived months after my son was born, exercise was the last thing on my mind. However, there came a time when I had to force myself to workout. I started out slowly by going for walks and following exercise videos at home. Today, I workout three times a week by running with my son in his beloved jogging stroller or taking a Zumba class at our gym where my (now) toddler enjoys playing with the other kids.
As someone who has experienced the darkness of depression at various times throughout my life, I have gained a deep appreciation for exercise and its positive effect on my mental health. In fact, I no longer view workouts as strictly a physical activity. The number one reason I exercise is for the endorphins that boost my mood and energy level. Exercise is absolutely essential for my mental health.
5. Give yourself (and others) TONS of grace; it will get better.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned through my experience with PPD and anxiety, it’s to give yourself bucket loads of grace. Whether people admit it or not, the transition to parenthood is challenging for most people, but adding another dimension of depression and anxiety makes everything much more difficult. So make sure you aren’t too hard on yourself as a new mommy. Allow yourself to make mistakes and don’t listen to the “mom guilt” that will inevitably threaten to take over your mind.
After pouring that bucket load of grace on yourself, make sure to extend that same grace to others around you. Not everyone will understand what you’re going through. Some moms may claim they suffered from something similar but then proceed to tell you what they did to overcome their PPD on their own. But often, people suffering from PPD and anxiety cannot be cured without medication or counseling or both. In other words, depression cannot be overcome just by “positive thinking” your way out of it. Therefore, if at any point you feel like your experiences are being downplayed or belittled, remember that it isn’t your job to make others understand the complexities of depression.
The only people in your life who should be expected to make an attempt to understand what you’re going through is your support system. Be extra patient with your family and friends as you share in this journey with them. Make sure they understand what kind of support and encouragement you need from them, and don’t forget to give them grace as they help you along your journey to victory.
Lastly, remember that it will get better! Stay the course, take care of yourself, and keep in mind that your little baby won’t be this much work forever. Like most challenges in life, your victory over PPD most likely won’t be a quick fix, but if you keep the faith, you’ll find that your journey to victory was worth the battle and worth the wait. And when you find yourself on the other side of victory, don’t forget to reach out to other women who may be going through something similar. They’ll need your empathy, support, and encouragement to get them to their own personal victory
Editor’s note: personal opinions expressed here should not be used as a substitute for medical/professional care.